Content / Background
During his lifetime, Joseph Haydn was the most famous composer in Europe. As kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy he spent a great deal of time, sometimes too much for his taste, at the prince’s country seat of Eszterháza. Despite this he was an artist with international connections. With the exception of his first opera, which is lost, and his last, L’anima del filosofo, a version of Orpheus and Eurydice that was not performed in his lifetime, Haydn wrote all his operas for the Esterházys’ theatre at which operas were continuously staged from 1776 onward. The prince also maintained an ensemble of top-class singers on permanent contracts. As kapellmeister Haydn was responsible for taking on works by other composers and from 1776 to 1790, when Prince Nikolaus died, he conducted a performance almost every third day, presiding over a total of ninety different operas at Eszterháza, including six of his own. In fact, Haydn was an experienced exponent of opera, but despite this his own operas are all but forgotten today. Haydn composed the dramma eroicomico Orlando paladino, an opera with heroic and comic elements, in anticipation of a visit from the Russian crown prince Paul. The libretto is based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso. The first performance, on 6 December, the prince’s name day, was one of Haydn’s greatest successes and in next to no time Orlando paladino became one of the most frequently performed operas in the last years of the 18th century. It was given thirty times in Eszterháza alone. Orlando, a knight and paladin of Charlemagne, has fallen in love with the beautiful Angelica, princess of Cathay. However, she rejects him because she has already lost her heart to the handsome Medoro who is gallantly courting her. Madness takes Orlando and he wants to kill Angelica and the whole world. The good sorceress Alcina intervenes to cure him of his madness. Haydn developed a multifaceted musical comedy from the love triangle of Orlando, Angelica and Medoro in which the heroic characters develop comic traits and the comic characters are marked by great melancholy.